The University of Calgary Dinos have a professional grade offensive line anchored by three players who were high picks in the Canadian Football League draft the last two years.
The Dinos also possess one of the country's leading quarterbacks in Eric Dzwilewski, a nominee for the Hec Crighton Trophy as Canada's most outstanding university player.
Ask Ron Wuotila, the university's director of athletics, to pinpoint the main reason behind the school's success this season, and he will offer a different explanation.
"Bottom line, our football team isn't in Hamilton this weekend without the 5th Quarter," Woutila said, referring to the alumni association that has been going strong for about 30 years and has raised hundreds of thousands in financial support for the team.
Calgary will hook up against the McMaster Marauders on Saturday at Ron Joyce Stadium in Hamilton in the Mitchell Bowl. The winner advances to the Vanier Cup the following week in Toronto. Should the Dinos get there, it would be the third time in the last four years they will have played in the national championship game, and the ninth time overall. 5Q is a big part of that success.
"All leadership is about vision and this group is hell bent on putting our football program in a position to win a Vanier Cup each and every year," Wuotila said.
Formed in the early 1980s with the help of former Calgary coach Peter Connellan, the alumni association's main task is to raise all the scholarship money that is doled out to the school's football players each season.
This year, 22 Calgary players are receiving financial aid that totals close to $100,000, an amount that penny-pinching Canadian universities cannot bear on their own.
"This isn't like the University of Texas," one Canadian university sports administrator said of the U.S. athletics giant whose sports budget was $153-million (U.S.) in 2011. Calgary's athletics budget is around $5-million this year, and the school fundraises about half that amount.
For the football program, 5Q raises the bulk of its money from an annual fundraising dinner that has become one of the most popular events on the Calgary sports calendar. In recent years the dinner has been a sold-out affair for 1,000 or so people, drawn by popular keynote speakers such as Bill Polian, former president of the Indianapolis Colts; former ABC sportscaster Keith Jackson; ESPN's Chris Berman; and NBC Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Michele Tafoya.
It is rare that the event fails to raise at least $300,000.
But 5Q does much more to make the U of C an attractive landing spot for top football players. Many of the alumni are also successful Calgary businessmen who use their connections to find employment for Dinosaur graduates.
Former Calgary quarterback Erik Glavic, a two-time Hec Crighton winner, has found work at Calgary-based Perpetual Energy Inc. Marcello Rapini, a former Dinosaurs player, current coach of the defensive backs and a long-time alumni supporter, is a vice-president at the company.
"Your path to work in this city is stronger than in 85 per cent of the university situations in this country," Wuotila said. "Our recruits, in part, choose the University of Calgary for that reason."
Running a football program is not cheap, and the more successful the team, the more money it eats up. Last year, when McMaster won the Vanier Cup in Vancouver, the school had to eat travel costs of close to $250,000. On top of that, McMaster shelled out $70,000 for 125 championship rings.
"I keep telling people, the pursuit of excellence is very expensive," Jeff Giles, McMaster's director of athletics and recreation, said. "But that's a price I think everybody at this university is more than happy to pay."